A doctor who upgraded the grand home of Queen Victoria’s own physician is proud to have preserved its character for 30 years.
Thirty years ago, Dr Patricia Donaldson was looking for a family home in Aberdeenshire that would offer easy access to her practice in Peterhead and her ex-husband’s place of work in Aberdeen.
But irrespective of its ideal location the couple were bowled over by what they found at Ellon Castle.
“We walked round the house in 20 minutes and then shook hands on it,” Patricia recalls.
Ellon Castle is the kind of property that elicits this reaction of love at first sight. On the banks of the River Ythan, it is a handsome B-listed mansion house with around 3.5 acres of grounds.
It dates back to the 1700s and was once owned by Sir James Reid, who became the private physician and close friend to Queen Victoria for the last 20 years of her life.
Sir James’ grandson inherited Ellon Castle following his death in 1923, and his wife, Michaela Reid, went on to write a book titled Ask Sir James based on daily pocket diaries written by the physician.
The grounds include a Victorian “ladies terrace” which is understood to have been a favourite spot of Queen Victoria’s.
The location was ideal for Patricia as Ellon is located just 17 miles from Peterhead and 13 miles from Aberdeen, making for an easy commute.
At the time, this house required work to transform it into a comfortable family home, from new central heating and plumbing to a refurbishment of the interior.
“It was exciting. We were young and enthusiastic and full of energy, and we’d done work to our previous house – a Victorian former Church of Scotland manse – so we had experience of sympathetically restoring a period property.”
Ellon Castle is a substantial home, including three reception rooms, seven bedrooms, and five bathrooms.
There is also a one bedroom Coach House adjacent to the main property which includes an open plan living and kitchen area – ideal for guests or family members who want a self-contained space.
The scale of Ellon Castle’s L-shaped drawing and dining room is staggering.
The dining room has a door leading to the butler’s pantry while the drawing room has a beautiful large, original stone fireplace with an open fire – the fireplaces were restored as part of the refurbishment – and a bay window with seating.
There’s also a spacious sitting room bathed in light from the south-facing windows, and here you’ll find an original oak fireplace with a cast iron Hunter wood-burning stove.
This also serves the adjoining study, where French doors lead out to the terraced garden.
The dining-kitchen is one of Patricia’s favourite spaces in the house – a natural place for family and friends to congregate.
“When we arrived the original sandstone fireplace was covered in a fake plywood wall,” she recalls.
“We knew there had to be something behind that, so we had the fireplace reinstated and were able to use the chimney for the flue of the Aga.”
Today’s kitchen features Shaker-style painted timber cabinets with black granite worktops, and a large central island providing a great prepping zone.
The circular tower in one corner of the house is accessed from the kitchen, and forms a wine cellar with stone shelves and flagstone flooring – a detail that reminds you of this building’s age.
“The juxtaposition of old and new has been enjoyable in the kitchen,” says Patricia.
“The table here has space for ten people, while the Aga is always on so there’s a lovely warm ambience.”
All the bedrooms are on the upper floor and the master bedroom is a particularly stunning space that also makes use of the circular corner tower to form a walk-in dressing room.
The bedroom and en-suite are open plan, with the latter positioned on a slightly raised section and including a freestanding claw foot bath with a view south from the window, which also has a window seat.
The main bathroom on this floor also has a freestanding bath, and serves as an en-suite for one of the bedrooms.
There are two further en-suites and a separate shower room – proving again just how well this period home works for family living.
Throughout the process of refurbishing Ellon Castle, Patricia found lovely features to work with like the original Italian marble tiled floor in the hallway, which simply needed to be cleaned up to reveal the beautiful marble finish.
When deciding on how to decorate and furnish the house, Patricia says, “I chose companies such as Zoffany and Osborne & Little whose colour palettes would be very much in tune with what this house needed, and a complementary decorating style that would accentuate the old features and the fireplaces.”
The grounds of Ellon Castle are bound by walled gardens, mature woodland and the Deer Park to the south, while along with the “ladies terrace” there’s a large west-facing paved patio area.
“Because we’re surrounded on all sides by woodland, it’s very private,” says Patricia.
The garden is one of the things she will miss most on leaving, as Ellon Castle is now on the market.
“I enjoy pottering around in the garden, and knowing that I’ve done a lot of planting over the years and there are surprises that come up every season.”
Of course, after 30 years here and having raised her four now grown-up children in Ellon Castle, Patricia will miss this house as well.
“The drawing room has been the scene of many a good party,” she says.
But now that her family have left home, it’s time to downsize – and take on a new and very different project in building a contemporary home designed to reflect the Scottish vernacular.
There are things from Ellon Castle that will inspire Patricia moving forward, particularly the use of natural materials, including wood and stone, to create finishes and features that will never date.
“It’s a real privilege to live in quite an ancient building like this,” she reflects, “but you know that you’re only the custodian for the length of time you’re here.
Everything we’ve done to Ellon Castle has been to maintain the character of it so that it’s ready to hand on.”
Ellon Castle is on the market at offers over £850,000 with Galbraith.
Words: Fiona Reid